‘In Blade Runner, also, it is an authentic relationship to Being that is taken to be what essentially ensouls both humans and replicants. Such is the import of Roy Batty’s famous final soliloquy:
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-Beams glitter in the darkness at Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die.”’
In “Philip K. Dick and Philosophy - Do Androids Have Kindred Spirits” by Dylan E. Wittkower
I just wanted to say that in my opinion any attempt to construct a coherent interpretation pf Phil Dick’s universe is missing the point. To be able to to construct a Weltanschauung of Dick’s writing we should focus only on philosophy. In all of Dick’s fiction time and causality are of the essence. The point is that, once time and causality become malleable, there is no hope of forming a solid, consistent interpretation of events in Dick’s fiction. That leads to our questioning the Nature of Reality. The focus shifts from epistemology - the problem of knowledge - to ontology - the way different realities are produced. This shift, according to Brian McHale, is precisely what defines the transition from modernism to postmodernism. In its resistance to coherent interpretation, "Ubik" is similar to certain more "literary" works of the 60s, for example the “nouveau romans” of Robbe-Grillet, or Richard Brautigan's "In Watermelon Sugar". (Granted these are very different stylistically). Is it because Dick is writing SF that so many assume the incoherence is sloppiness rather than a deliberate rhetorical strategy?
I think Robbe-Grillet was perhaps deliberately, not just stylistically, trying to put thinking and theorizing about the art of writing into the structure of his novels to create novelty, as writing, which he called “Noveau Roman”. I don't know what Brautigan was trying to do, but Phil Dick's subjects and concerns about reality weren't about writing per se, but about living. I don't think he was trying to deliberately create a new kind of writing or novel. That doesn't mean his works are narrowly interpretable, but many, many SF novels have time travel, space/time warps, and so on, but are interpretable. Interpretations or readings are just perspectives which aren't meant to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Reasonably consistent interpretations are possible, such a everything-is-perfect's Jungian analysis. Works like Phil Dick's makes people want to interpret them and present many overlapping and partial possibilities of interpretation and perhaps ultimate impenetrability.
I have no argument with postmodernism but postmodernism and its theorists don't have a clue what produces realities anymore than anyone else does or ever did, let alone Phil Dick’s. Maybe science will get there one day, but people do with novels what they do with things like 'postmodernism' itself: they talk about them, try to understand more about them, what they are, what they aren't, explain them, how and why they exist, their consequences and so on and so on. The alternative is to remain silent and that is hardly what postmodernists do. What the world is lacking is not the expressed opinions of postmodernism. Anyway I am just saying talking and writing about the meaning of things, whether it is Phil Dick's novels, postmodernism or philosophy itself isn't missing the point. These are postmodern times and we all live in them, but we are still just people. Nobody reads to just say, this is impenetrable or there is no final sense to be had here. Not for long. Why bother?
Having said this, I didn't mean to suggest Dick and Robbe-Grillet are coming from the same angle at all - but where they arrive has some similarities, to my mind. Phil Dick is in fact a humanist from start to finish; Robbe-Grillet is sceptical of humanism; indeed he begins by trying to expunge anthropomorphism from fiction. His starting point is an attempt at objectivity. However, his later work moves away from this and presents deliberately contradictory narratives (roughly from “Project for a Revolution in New York” onwards). As with later Phil Dick, there seem to be several different parallel universes existing in something like quantum superposition.
Dick is interested in simulated realities from very early, but his earlier works (“Time out of Joint” for instance) reveal the reality underlying the illusion. Whilst Phil Dick always believes there is an underlying reality, and an authentic humanity, he becomes increasingly sceptical about our ability to discover it and to discriminate between reality and illusion. Later Dick is full of longing for the transcendental, for final revelation, but he always suffers profound doubt. Certainty is never possible. This is found in his attitude to his religious experiences as well as in his fiction.
Baudrillard seems to be on a similar wavelength here. He asks how certainty is possible in an increasingly mediated reality, where simulation is extremely difficult to distinguish from reality.
I think the rise of modern media has something to do with this interest in ontology and constructed realities from the 60s onwards. Some thinkers - e.g. the critic Darko Suvin - see Phil Dick's move to ontology as decadent; they believe the earlier fiction is more socially engaged, and the later stuff mere metaphysical navel-gazing. I'm not so sure. There is more going on in late Phil Dick than philosophical masturbation, just as later Robbe-Grillet is more than just a literary parlour game.
I am the last person to demand social engagement, or reject it, and coincidentally I am also the last person to find writing that addresses writing itself to be literary parlour games. In fact I prefer the latter depending on the execution. Certainty was abolished long, long ago, and the postmodern world view abolishes it all the more, incorporating it more into our lives as world view AND responding to the technologies that transform our lives and culture, especially of simulation or hyper-reality. Postmodernism has survived as a major interpretation of what all organism do, responding to milieus, explaining and theorizing about them, and, I believe, giving those who do so a VERY great deal of pleasure.
Criticizing Phil Dick as navel gazing or masturbation because he is committed to some higher order of being or reality and not to social engagement is certainly allowable, but such criticism is another perspective in an inevitable babble of perspectives (perspectives now being primarily written). But it is basically moralizing about what some people thing others SHOULD write about, similarizing others to yourself by rejecting their difference. But engaged in what? The politics or economics of hyper-reality? Postmodernism demands nothing of anyone, no one is a better postmodernist than anyone else. Postmodernism, for me, is something we can tap into and use its rhetoric and ideas, but no postmodernist can say my ideas ARE Postmodernism and if you deviate you are excommunicated or relapsed or anything else. Postmodernism permits, I think, religious fundamentalism, as narrow as you like, even if this or that postmodernist does not permit it. The religiomania may not BE a postmodernist of course.
Phil Dick is for me very interesting because his writing is so engaging on a human level while presenting visionary and INTERESTING ideas about reality. I stress interesting, not truthfulness. I am going from memory here (Brautigan is so many decades in my past I can't speak of him) but Robbe-Grillet's later novels, I only read one, I found lacking because, and I do NOT say I'm correct, it wasn't that interesting the way his earlier ones were. Writing about interpenetrating dimensions, and especially if you feel it is a deliberate meta-fictional ploy, isn't that interesting. Like Paul Auster's “Scriptorium” just felt contrived on the basis of theory and while I can't say it's wrong to do that, I can say it left me indifferent. I could use it as a good clear example of meta-fictional writing but as Literature I wouldn't recommend anyone read it, unlike the New York Trilogy. Phil Dick's shifting and interpenetrating realities both catch you up in the writing, AND make you think about them. Reading for just the ideas, you might as well read literary criticism. I definitely like literature that explores fiction and fiction writing as just one of those shifting levels of reality. Borges gives a nice simple model (apparently simple) in his short poem “Chess”, readily available by internet search. But it is hard to carry off as Literature, and not tiresome self consciousness about now rather old literary thinking.
There is so much rhetoric about postmodernism and philosophy in Phil Dick’s books that it constitutes an enormous body of writing, but it can't be turned into a binary system of yes or no where gatekeepers decide on which switch gets pulled. But trying to co opt it in that way is inevitable because we are all too human.
If I had to choose a word to define Phil Dick’s philosophy it would be: "uncertainty". We have lots of realities coming at us and can't choose anything with certainty although we can choose. Phil Dick in his essay “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” says:
“To quote Xenophanes, another pre-Socratic: ‘Even if a man should chance to speak the most complete truth, yet he himself does not know it; all things are wrapped in appearances.’”
We still live in a pretty consistent real world, but for Phil Dick WE DID NOT, i.e., we could be living in interpenetrated time periods. But in the end postmodernism, I think, says there is not definitive real in reality. Postmodernists can say and theorize and explain whatever they choose.
I guess another kind of identification would be with the writer's mind. Poe, in my opinion, addresses this without doing it, in “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains”, where one man's life is remarkably affected, using Mesmerism as the literary vehicle, by another man's writing, so that the first man, Bedloe, actually lives what is being written in real time. Phil Dick indeed has some power to let us look in his mind because he transcribes it, or is it his ideas. Maybe confessional writing does that too. But I am not so sure it is uniquely postmodern. I have thought about this, like in what is going on in Poe, but never quite experienced such a thing myself. I mean he keeps taking us into the minds of seriously disturbed individuals, but is it HIS mind, even part-time.
If you saw the movie “Hitchcock”, I think they were saying that “Psycho” was giving us a view of Hitchcock's mind, that he was having impulses to dark deeds and that is what motivated his film. So in a sense we are seeing into his mind when we see “Psycho”, although maybe we aren't being invited and it is indirect. It's the uncertainty in postmodernism that gives me at least the illusion of intimacy with the author. The stream of consciousness, suddenly appearing and disappearing ideas, thoughts that don't quite make sense and loop back on themselves, plots that don't follow rigid lines, they all give the slightly vertiginous feeling of being present inside a real mind and not just visiting a constructed alternative reality within a novel.
Well, in Phil Dick's case there is that sense of immediacy and seeing the mind of someone who is doing much, much more than just thinking up plots and executing him. But most readers sense it and it certainly seems a part of his genius. It's about ideas, but living ideas.
I must stop. As you have noticed I could write (and talk) about Phil Dick’s work all day long...I won’t bother you anymore.
Bottom-line: Should you read Wittkower’s collection of essays on Dick’s Philosophy and Weltanschauung? Absolutely. But you must be familiar with Phil Dick’s work (or derivatives thereof), mainly “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, “Ubik”, “Solar Lottery”, Blade Runner (1982 movie), Total Recall (based on the short-story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale“), Adjustment Bureau” (based on the short-story “Adjustment Team”, “Time Out of Joint”, “A Scanner Darkly” (re-read in progress), The Valis Trilogy, “The Man in the High Castle”, “Time Out of Joint” at least. I’m going to send this essay to Wittkower to ask him to include it in the book’s next edition...Nah. Just kidding.
SF = Speculative Fiction